2008 was supposed to have been an ideal year for the Democratic Party. There's an unpopular, lame-duck Republican president presiding over an iffy economy and an unpopular war. Plus, the Democrats won big in the 2006 elections, and there's no Republican vice president in the race to draw on the power of incumbency.
No wonder that for much of 2007, the polls suggested that the only mystery would be by how much Sen. Hillary Clinton would beat former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the general election.
Indeed, for Democrats not to walk into the presidency in November 2008, the conventional wisdom was that the absolute unthinkable would have to transpire.
And now it almost has.
The Republicans have done something unimaginable in making Sen. John McCain the presumptive nominee. And so have the Democrats in allowing their primary season to drag on.
On the Republican side, McCain, not too long ago, was running far behind in the primaries, and his maverick positions enraged influential conservatives. Yet he proved to be the only Republican candidate who had any chance of capturing moderate and independent voters. And for all their bluster, most die-hard conservatives now seem like they're going to hold their noses and vote Republican.
On the Democratic side, Clinton was stopped cold — but still has yet to be finished off by Obama. Now we can expect months more of infighting. As the Democrats raise tens of millions to destroy themselves, McCain can only sit back and smile.
With Obama the likely nominee, we can also expect to hear more from, and about, his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Reporters no doubt are scanning Rev. Wright's massive corpus of texts and DVDs for more hate speech.
Even before the Wright controversy, the Democratic vote had been split heavily along racial lines — whites for Clinton, blacks for Obama — in certain states, including the all-important Ohio. That’s not a good sign for a party that’s supposed to be a model of racial transcendence.
Clinton will weaken Obama for months to come. There is no reason to believe the former front-runner will quit the Democratic race soon, even though Obama has an all-but-insurmountable delegate lead.
Clinton has momentum and should win sizably in Pennsylvania later this month. Millions want to vote for her in the remaining primaries. By convention time, she could even end up with a slight lead in the aggregate popular vote.
Clinton has also so far won all the big states that will be in play in the general election. She knows the superdelegates were created precisely for a year like this, and so will argue that these Democratic pros are there to check the exuberance of a liberal electorate that might actually nominate someone untested like Obama. Had Clinton run under Republican primary rules, her wins would have already sealed for her the nomination.
Clinton can also point to polls showing that an Obama nomination will lose more Democrats to McCain than would her own. In other words, she thinks that she has every reason to continue her last-chance campaign, even as it hurts her party, Obama and the Clinton legacy.
Finally, no matter who ultimately becomes the Democratic nominee, it may not be so easy to run a campaign against McCain on the notion that everything is falling apart -- or that it is his fault.
It is not at all clear that the Iraq war will get worse, despite the latest news of Shiite in-fighting. Most Iraqis — especially the Sunnis of Anbar — have long wanted the Shiite government to put down the militias of Moqtada al-Sadr. If this happens, the good news of the surge could get better.
At home, we not are yet in a recession, and may avoid one altogether. For now, despite financial jitters, mortgage fears and a weakening American financial position abroad, unemployment, interest rates and inflation all remain fairly low — and could still stay that way through the summer.
Many of our problems like gas prices and deficits transcend politics — or at least were due to bipartisan mistakes of both Congress and the administration and won't play out to partisan advantage. There is no Democratic or Republican answer to stop Iran from getting the bomb, or to bring a roguish but increasingly wealthy and powerful China into the global community.
By late summer, a rested John McCain will try to reassure Americans that he will run their country just like he ran his campaign. A wounded Barack Obama will have won a Pyrrhic nomination. And an angry Hillary Clinton will be gone — but the latest addition to the Clinton legacy not forgotten.